London - It’s all very well for drivers to complain about cyclists who wobble all over the road trying to figure out exactly where they’re going but, until you’ve tried navigating through traffic on a bicycle using your GPS or smartphone to find your way, you have no idea how intimidating it can be to share the road with vehicles 100 times the size and 1000 times the weight of yours.
Ford’s Smart Mobility think-tank in central London is home to a number of young engineers, many of whom cycle to work by choice; they know better than most that the problem has two sides - motorists don’t know where the cyclists are going, and the cyclists themselves often need help in order to navigate the urban jungle - preferably without taking their eyes off the roads.
So they came up with a unique ‘smart jacket’ that helps you navigate, tells you where to go without looking at a screen and lets the rest of the world know where you’re going. It has a see-through pocket in the left sleeve that will hold your GPS or smartphone safely while you ride. You can lift the cover flap, key in your destination and cover it up again before your ride - you won’t need to look at it again.
That’s because, before you get to each turning point, a vibrator pod in the sleeve on that side of the jacket will buzz like a cellphone in silent mode, warning you to turn to that side at the next intersection. And when you raise your arm to give the appropriate hand signal, an orange light on the sleeve flashes like the indicator on a car. There’s even a built-in accelerometer that causes a row of red LEDS across the back of the jacket to flash in sequence when you hit the brakes.
The Ford pedal-pushers - whose job it is to think outside the box - actually built a working smart jacket with help from urban cycling clothing specialist Lumo and mobility software expert, that connects wirelessly to your cellphone or handheld satnav, and they’ve been trying it out on their daily commute.
The Smart Mobility team is tasked with researching the ‘last mile’ challenge - the last leg of a journey not only in terms of commuting but also as regards delivering goods and services in dense and congested urban environments. In the future, they say, similar riding gear could enable commercial dispatch riders to access calls and messages using hand gestures and voice commands, with bone-conduction headphones to avoid blocking out sounds from pedestrians and other road users, as earbud headphones do.
For now, the smart jacket you see in the video is the only prototype, but the team is busy applying for a patent, so that the idea can be further developed or licenced to others in the future; they’ve already proved that it works.